Match Report: vs Bickley Park

Having had nothing of note to write home about following the last Ramblas game, it’s with great pleasure (and no little pride) that this ‘reporter’ gets to relive yesterday’s game away to Bickley Park.

With Skipper Stocks a last-minute withdrawal, it was left to Michael Cooper to lead the 10 Ramblas against the 10 men of Bickley Park in chilly conditions in south-east London; having first overcome a slight balls-up on the part of the hosts. Ramblas’ nerves were set to janglin’ before they’d even donned their whites when they were confronted with another visiting team turning up under the impression they would be playing Bickley Park. Alas, it was Old Colfeians who were left disappointed and the Ramblas could prepare for the game.

Cap’n Coops lost the toss, but wasn’t unhappy with his opposite number opting to bat first. That left the returning Ian Dacre to pair up with Mark Loughlin to open the attack and they were both proving difficult to get away, with some sharp ground fielding backing up the strong start. Loughlin soon made the breakthrough when he shattered the stumps of the opening batsman to leave the hosts one down having barely troubled the scoreboard.

The opening bowlers shared the first eight overs to the usual miserly effect, but sensing the chance to mix it up, Cap’n Cooper called for the services of Steve Cleverley from the Garden End, with Geoff Parrett taking over from Dacre at the Road End. Once more, the latter delivered an almost flawless spell of slow bowling, offering few opportunities for the batsmen to get after him. Early on in his spell, he tempted the batter into misreading one that saw excellent work from Sam Ford behind the wicket to stump him, while towards the end of another excellent eight overs off the reel, the batsman failed to read the turn and Parrett took a sharp catch off his own bowling.

From the other end, Cleverley was putting in a superlative performance with the ball. Finding a good length that nagged at the batsmen and never let them settle, he soon benefited from another superb Parrett Pouch(TM) at short mid-on. With the very next ball he was again celebrating as he got one to bite off the wicket and nick through the gate. Could this be the first Ramblas hat-trick?

Alas, there was no history to be made this time as the next ball looped agonisingly over the despairing reach of Cooper: so close! Still, a double-wicket maiden isn’t to be sniffed at…

Keeping the pressure on

With Parrett being bowled through, Cleverley was granted a well-earned rest and Chris Thomas was called upon to bowl down the ground. Unveiling a modified action for the first time, he found an extra yard (well, maybe a foot) of pace and was unlucky not get among the wickets as three presentable chances went down. Bowling in tandem with Thomas following the culmination of Parrett’s spell was Steve Fitch who put in his best four overs of the season. Although the pair remained wicketless, they were not giving much away as the Ramblas maintained the scoreboard pressure.

Sensing that the partnership between Proctor and Huntley was becoming well set, Cap’n Cooper recalled Loughlin and then Dacre in the hope of getting into the tail. It was another tight four overs from bowling attack leader Loughlin, but the breakthrough didn’t emerge. However, with the run-rate still well under four an over, there was no need to panic for the visitors. Having sent down the best five overs of his Ramblas career in his first spell, Cleverley was recalled to the attack and immediately vindicated the skipper’s choice with a plumb LBW.

That was the least the big man deserved, as another couple of tough chances went begging in the field, before Loughlin displayed sharp work in the field to run out the half-century-making Proctor with a direct hit off the bowling of Dacre who then claimed a wicket with the last ball of the over which was well caught by Ash Harris. After a sterling all-round effort by the visitors, that left them chasing 146 to win the game.

Bat’s entertainment

After a decent enough tea (certainly an improvement on the last away day fare, at least), it was up to the Ramblas top order to set a solid foundation for what appeared a gettable total on a good pitch. A great ‘Geoff-ort’ at would have been a breath-taking catch by Parrett left him with a swollen finger, so the batting line-up underwent a bit of a shake-up, but the opening pair of Laurie Stocks – who almost took a couple of worldies at slip – and Ford headed out with purpose and saw off the first couple of overs well, before the latter was caught at mid-wicket.

The big-hitting Harriss was up next, but he succumbed in the same over without troubling the scorers to bring in Cap’n Cooper to steady the ship. And that he did, putting the onus on Stocks to keep the run-rate ticking over, while a plethora of extras meant there was no need for the batsmen to over-commit with the willow.

Having looked good for his seven (although the running between the wickets looked in slow-motion at times), Stocks was bowled as he played around one. His dismissal brought Loughlin to the crease and he continued his good form with the bat, with the skipper supporting him from the other end. Alas, a sharp delivery from led to the stand-in skipper depart LBW and the stoic Stitch came in to offer support to Loughlin.

The pair ran well between the wickets, and with the continuing smattering of extras, there was still plenty of hope to be had for the Ramblas despite having only five wickets (included an injured batsman) in hand. However, Fitch/Stitch departed for five – caught at mid-wicket – and the prognosis was not looking good for the Ramblas as Thomas went out to bat.

With plenty of overs left, though, there was time for the new batsman to see himself in and with Loughlin in good form at the other end, it was far from a foregone conclusion. The pair stayed together for a (very one-sided) 36-run partnership, before Loughlin was bowled trying to make room for a shot on the off-side. His measured 24 had given his team half a chance.

For the second time in as many games, that left Cleverley – fresh from his brilliant bowling – and Thomas together at the crease. With time (if not wickets) still on their side, some sensible batting could see them put the squeeze on the hosts and although there were few scoring shots, the war of attrition saw the score creep up to 90 before Thomas was bowled for a laboured three, as he finally tried to force the issue.

That brought in Dacre who got two before getting caught to leave the final pairing of an ailing Parrett and the now well-set Cleverley needing 52 to win from the last eight overs.

Not knowing how Parrett’s hand would hold up, the Ramblas on the sidelines were far from confident, but he played through the pain barrier and soon began to unleash his array of big hits. Meanwhile, Cleverley had found confidence and was now striking the ball well, too. With the extras still piling up alongside the increased run-rate from these two, the Ramblas were suddenly right back in it, requiring 26 from the last four overs.

Cap’n Cooper was a picture of nerves on the sidelines, having already led the team to a despairing one-run defeat earlier in the season, as he saw the last stand add nine runs in the 37th over to leave 17 needed from 18 balls. The 38th over got off to a good start with two well run pairs and a single before Parrett fell in the most heart-breaking of circumstances, hitting his own wicket as he defended one that spat off from the ground to leave the Ramblas nursing an 11-run defeat. Head here for the full scoreboard as, ultimately, like a dwarf trying to get on a fairground ride, we came up just short.

It was another topsy-turvy game for the Ramblas, having again performed well in the field, but letting themselves down collectively with the bat. As a unit, the bowlers were superb and were backed up by sharp fielding, with Parrett and Cleverley the stand-out performers of a good all-round attack. On another day, a start for one of the top order could have been the platform required for victory, but it was just not to be this time.

As has been the case for much of the season, the Ramblas just need to tie together something approaching a decent batting performance to support a stellar bowling attack.

Man of the Match: There were some cracking performances across the 10 men on Sunday, but there can be only one recipient of the award this week, and he is Steve Cleverley. It’s a joy to see him bowling with such precision – and getting the rewards he deserves for it – while an unbeaten 21 with the bat to go with figures of 3-23 with the ball just underlines why he was the only choice.

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